By: Anita Karim
There are many dimensions to Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III’s demeanour in his public life. Born on the 2nd of November, 1877, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah became the 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims at the tender age of eight years old. From that time, he was actively involved in social endeavours in education, healthcare, politics and international development. On the occasion of his 143rd birth anniversary, his achievements for progress prove unparalleled.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah became a standard bearer for reform when he joined hands with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in The Aligarh Movement. His untiring sympathy towards the common man led him to raise his voice for eradicating sati, servitude, torture and mutilation as he referred to these bans for “standard of human feeling and sentiment.” His tenacity in politics prepared him as the President of the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations, Head of the All-India Muslim League, Patron of the London Muslim League, Head of the 1906 Muslim Deputation to the Viceroy of India, President of the All Indian Muhammadan Educational Conference, Head of the British Indian Delegation to the Roundtable Conference, Delegate to the Disarmament Conference and the Head of the Simla Delegation, to name a few indicators of his active involvement in the Pakistan Movement. On the 15th of December, 1932, a meeting of National League members was held in London in Committee, where the poet of the East, Allama Iqbal remarked in regards to the services of Aga Khan III, “We have placed these demands before the Conference under the guidance of Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III that worthy of statesman whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love for the blood that runs through the veins.”
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah paid a sizeable amount to Oman for acquiring Gwadar where the first Aga Khan School was established in 1905. Today Gwadar is featured in the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Pakistan’s history. As a result of his grand Diamond Jubilee, a network of more than 200 Diamond Jubilee Aga Khan Schools were established in Northern Pakistan, which forms the basis for the 90% literacy rate of Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan. Today this network has changed the very face of GB as the network comprises of an array of institutions under the aegis of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), led by his grandson, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. AKDN is an institutional set-up of not-for-profit and for-profit organisations, which endeavour to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life of the underserved communities in Asia and Africa.
As an ardent reformer, activist and religious leader, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah went to the extent of stating, “Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other a girl, and if I could afford to educate only one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl.” His followers have been religiously following this guidance till date. Advocating for quality education, he also supported the Aligarh University Movement by providing funds, leadership and guidance. The Aga Khan III’s endeavour “for the relief of humanity” reflects in today’s AKDN institutions which support humanity in social, cultural and economic spheres of life. At the stone laying ceremony of Aligarh he said, “We want to create for our people an intellectual capital – a city that shall be a home of elevated ideals, a centre from which light and guidance shall be diffused amongst the Muslims of India and out of India too, and shall hold up to the world model standard of justice and virtue and purity of our faith”. His passion for education manifests through his words for the foundation of Aligarh University and he said “As a mendicant, I am now going out to beg from house to house and from street to street for the children of Muslim India.” He contributed Rs.100,000 for the university and was able to raise three million Rupees for the university all by himself, as he held that he wanted to “build a mighty university worthy of Islam in India.” Aga Khan III laid the foundation for institutions such as the Diamond Jubilee Trust and the Platinum Jubilee Investments Limited, which are pivotal in growing various types of cooperative societies in Pakistan.
Having the prestige to represent India in the Disarmament Conference, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was elected as the Chairman of the League of Nations, which is known today as the United Nations. Due to his endeavours for the Muslim world, countries like Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt were included in the League of Nations. On account of his services, he was awarded with multiple titles by Iran, Syria and Indonesia. During the Khilafat Movement, Aga Khan III fought to curb the breakup of the Caliphate by highlighting the issue at international forums. He personally sent letters to The Times of London to campaign for the continuation of the Caliphate. Another noteworthy delegation he led comprised of Indian Muslim leaders to the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George. Sir Theodore Morison, a British educationalist and a supporter of Pakistan Movement stated, “I am hopeful that during the next half century, the Aga Khan will play that part in directing the destinies of the world of Islam for which his position and abilities so eminently qualify him.” In recognition for his humanitarian efforts, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in January 1924, for his work in sustaining peace between Turkey and the western powers after the peace agreement.
Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah’s grandson and successor, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV recalled, “My grandfather was a most gifted person, and amongst his many qualities, one of them had always particularly impressed me. While the past was a book he had read and re-read many times, the future was just one more literary work of art into which he used to pour himself with deep thought and concentration. Innumerable people since his death have told me how he used to read in the future, and this certainly was one of his very great strengths.” Some scholars have rightly called Aga Khan III a “Sufi at heart” for his political pursuits, lifestyle and interests. Notwithstanding, he was a great advocator of humanity and a reputed world leader that the subcontinent has ever produced.
- Gwader: https://dailytimes.com.pk/243413/who-do-we-thank-for-gwadar/
- Literacy rate in Hunza: https://www.dawn.com/news/843769/hunza-disaster-and-schools
- Humanism: https://prod-static-iis.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/aga_khan_humanism-270060078.pdf